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Cajon Pass fire destroys man’s ranch, retirement dreams

State hospital worker Bruce Schumacher said he was on the verge of retiring and planned to sustain himself with two livestock businesses on his sprawling, 10-acre ranch in the San Bernardino County community of Hesperia.

But when he reached his ranch Saturday after a 1,200-acre brush fire roared through his property near the Cajon Pass a day earlier, he met with a ghastly sight. More than 100 of his goats, rabbits and birds were dead, their charred carcasses strewn about his ranch. His house, fully paid for, was destroyed. His antiques, tractor and other vehicles were gone too.

And so were his retirement dreams.

Schumacher, 66, said he broke down, sobbing and hyperventilating. A neighbor gave him medication to calm him down — Schumacher’s own prescriptions were destroyed in the blaze.

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Photos: Fire in Cajon Pass

“Where do I start?” asked Schumacher, a psychiatric technician at Patton State Hospital. “How do I start at my age?”

The Hesperia resident was among 1,500 people caught in a mandatory evacuation after the blaze ignited at 12:40 p.m. Friday, destroying several structures and snarling Labor Day weekend traffic along Interstate 15. Both northbound and southbound lanes were open Saturday, but holiday traffic remained heavy.

Officials lifted the mandatory evacuation Saturday afternoon after more than 900 firefighters succeeded in containing 60% of the blaze. Full containment was expected by 6 p.m. Sunday, said Tracey Martinez, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

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Martinez said the fire started in the center median of Interstate 15, jumped the freeway and quickly moved south through the dry brush and vegetation. The cause was still under investigation. Two homes and several sheds and other outdoor structures were destroyed, and two other homes were damaged.

“The fire is not spreading currently,” Martinez said. “But the winds are erratic and the potential for it to spread or flare up is still there.”

Schumacher said he had left for a dental appointment before the blaze started Friday. By midday, he said, he could see the flames growing from afar but was not allowed to return to his home until Saturday.

When he did, he choked up at the sight of his dead animals, which looked as if they had strained to escape from their pens. Among the survivors were 30 to 35 sheep, which Schumacher said had been protected by their “guard llama,” Little Man. The llama had shielded them from the fire with his own body; he suffered burns but is expected to recover.

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“He sacrificed himself to protect the sheep,” Schumacher said. “Not a single one died.”

But he said the fire had dashed all hopes of retirement, particularly since he had no homeowner’s insurance or the resources to restore the ranch.

“There is no way to rebuild,” he said. “My dream of retirement has been taken away from me.”

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com


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